Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction:
A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo

Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
October 31, 1995 Staff Statement

VII. Conclusions

The threat posed by the Aum today is unknown. It still has substantial assets, thousands of devotees and authorities are unsure whether its weapons and weapon potential has been neutralized. Furthermore, the anti-Western rhetoric and Armageddon prophecies that fueled the tragic and near-cataclysmic incidents in Tokyo and elsewhere, are still evident.

The cult's rise and its efforts to obtain and deploy weapons of mass destruction raises numerous policy issues, however, that extend well beyond the specific threat posed by Asahara and his disciples. The Aum was merely one example --a case study -- of what may be the most dominant, emerging threat to our national security.

The ease with which the cult accessed the vast international supermarket of weapons and weapons technology is extremely troubling. It is especially troubling in light of the current state of the economies and governments of the former Soviet Union. How much this cult acquired and how much more they could have obtained is still a mystery. How much the next group may be able to acquire is the question that also remains unanswered.

Furthermore, despite the Aum's relatively overt and far flung activities, not a single U.S. enforcement or intelligence agency perceived them as dangerous, much less a threat to national security, prior to the March 20, 1995 Tokyo subway attack. More than a few representatives of these agencies indicated, as one candid counterterrorism officer admitted, 'they simply were not on anybody's radar screen." How does a fanatic, intent on creating Armageddon, with relatively unlimited funds and a worldwide network of operatives, escape notice of western intelligence and law enforcement agencies outside of Japan? Our witnesses today and tomorrow, as well as at subsequent hearings, will put in context our national security needs and our government's capabilities. A number of questions and observations, based upon our inquiry today, may provide areas for further discussion and improvement:

  • Intelligence: U.S. intelligence agencies are apparently focusing heavily on official state proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Do they need to allocate increased resources to WMD terrorism? Do we need to enhance U.S. intelligence agencies' expertise in biology, chemistry, and nuclear physics? Do we also need to increase their development and acquisition of new technologies to help the U.S. government detect and combat WMD?

  • Need to coordinate U.S. government agencies: In the fure any CBW terrorist action is likely to involve foreign groups or activities. This means that intelligence organizations are likely to have information on such organizations and activities. In addition, law enforcement agencies with international presence like the U.S. Customs Service and FBI may also have information concerning these groups. Law enforcement and intelligence sources must have regular contact and interchange of ideas. Because the goal should be to prevent an attack before it even get to the formative stages, law enforcement and intelligence agencies may not know what information the other needs or has. A critical need apparently exists for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information and coordinate activities in regard to WMD terrorism. Is there a need for creating a national clearinghouse or all sources intelligence/law enforcement center to give U.S. government analysts access to all relevant terrorist information from whatever source derived to analyze terrorist threats and assist prosecutions? Given the overlapping missions within our government, is there a need for a single, high- level Administration-wide coordinator?

  • Response Capabilities: During video footage of the Tokyo sarin gas attack, local police could be seen entering the subway without protective clothing next to military or other government officials encased in the most modem protective CBW uniforms. Apparently many of the would-be rescuers became some of the first casualties. Obviously, medical, rescue, fire and law enforcement personnel from the federal to the local level must be trained and equipped to handle a CBW incident. Likewise, hospitals and clinics must be prepared with proper supplies and antidotes to respond to a CBW event. Are procedures in place and adequate resources available for all U.S. government and private agencies to handle such events? In particular, are current funding levels for our Federal Emergency Management Agency adequate to successfully coordinate a national response to this threat?

  • Strengthen export controls: The trend recently in the U.S. has been toward liberalizing export controls. Should policy makers revisit this policy and consider strengthening controls on some of the dual use items used for making WMD materials?

  • Promote Self-Policing: In the case study of the Aum, certain U.S. companies who were approached by the Aum and its corporate alter- egos, became suspicious of the Aum's end-use of their products. Ultimately, certain transactions were not consummated. Conversely,- other companies did not ask the right questions or simply did not care. The U.S. business community has a duty to its consumers and our Nation to recognize dangers of many of its dual-use items and act responsibly. Although, to a great extent, the case study of the Aum appears to demonstrate some success with our joint government/industry educational program, can and should more be done in this area to improve corporate awareness?

  • Ratification of CWC: Since the Subcommittee's last hearing on this issue in 1989, the CWC has been under consideration. Would ratification of this treaty give the U.S. government increased leverage in halting the spread of chemical weapons? Would this be especially true if ratification were accompanied by passage of a domestic law that instituted a national, computerized clearing house for dual- use chemicals and apparatus used to make chemicals, similar to export control mechanisms that track end-users and give the end- users' purpose for purchasing the item?

  • Open source information on WMD: Recipes and directions for making weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are readily available in the open literature and now on the Internet. The U.S. government is considering declassifying additional information about the U.S. biological weapons program. Does such open source literature on WMD makes it easier for would-be terrorists and other governments to make these weapons? Is there a need to study how to control access to such information while still safeguarding our First Amendment guarantees?

  • Global cooperation: Few terrorists are now just domestic terrorists. Almost all are now international terrorists to some degree. Most travel and buy goods throughout the world. Are additional international agreements needed among at least the P-8 countries (G-7 plus Russia) to address this international aspect of terrorism? Is there a need for an agreement that would encourage that member countries share information involving WMD terrorism that may have international implications?